Crowdfunding / Startups / Venture capital

3 words that describe these startup founders’ experiences raising VC

For one: "Geography, gender and momentum." From where you're raising money to how much, here's what the heads of CampusESP, wearwell and Roundtrip had to say about the process.

Founders (L to R) Dave Becker, Tiffanie Stanard, Erin Houston and Mark Switaj on fundraising. (Photo by Paige Gross)
Full disclosure: Technically Media CEO Chris Wink sits on the Philly Startup Leaders board. That relationship is unrelated to this report.

Founder Factory, the conference for startup founders produced each year by Philly Startup Leaders (PSL), is a day for entrepreneurs to get real with each other. At least, that’s what 2019’s event brought to the table.

This year, the conference directly follows PSL’s A Seat At The Table dinner, a night where the community can look frankly at diversity, inclusion and equity in the local entrepreneurship scene. Thursday’s conference focused more on the how-to, advice and realities of being a startup founder.

During the “Making Money Moves” talk, three founders talked with Stimulus CEO and founder Tiffanie Stanard, who asked them, “What three words describe your experience with fundraising?” Here’s what they said:

Dave Becker, founder and CEO, CampusESP

“Is it necessary?”

Becker, who recently raised a $500,000 seed round for the higher ed platform that helps connect parents with universities, said that founders have to be sure that the raise is a necessary step in the growth of the business.

“If your business model is constantly going through these raises, fine,” he said. “But the determining factor should be, ‘What is you business model?’ If you don’t need to fundraise, don’t fundraise.”

Erin Houston, cofounder and CEO, wearwell

“Geography, gender and momentum.”

A lot of people complain that it’s hard to build capital, Houston said, but it’s necessary to think about where your business might live, and go find that money and bring it back. In her case, she said, wearwell — a personal shopping subscription service, in both tech and fashion industries — saw more interest in West Coast cities like Los Angelos and San Francisco.

When it comes to gender, Houston said it’s often the “microexperience of fundraising as a woman” that comes to mind. (The founder is actively raising a $2.5 million round.)

“Often my experience is that you get a lot of feedback from people who say, ‘Don’t try and raise that much money,’ or ‘Pick your lane,'” she said.

It can be discouraging, Houston said, but female founders shouldn’t be turned off from asking for the right numbers that they need — “I say that for the female founders in the room, but also for potential funders in the room.”

And when it comes to momentum in the fundraising process, run it like a sales process, she said.

Mark Switaj, founder and CEO, Roundtrip

“Super duper difficult” or “Never give up.”

The healthcare transportation startup founder just raised about a $6 million Series A round, but said finding the capital in Philadelphia was challenging. Ultimately, though, he said that the larger sums of money he received were from investors in close proximity.

“A few things to benefit from are that we’re a bigger fish in smaller pond in Philly,” Switaj said.

He often argues that money goes a lot farther in Philadelphia — the average tenure of software developers in Philly compared to places like Silicon Valley are twice as long for about half the price, he said.

Lastly, and just as importantly, Switaj said, is finding a strong mentor that founders can talk to and lean on when it comes to money making decisions.

Companies: wearwell / Roundtrip

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